Interview with Friends parent Mindy Mullins by Lou Bendrick
We love our volunteers. This month’s volunteer is a busy Friends School mom of three kids, former trustee, veterinarian and parent council leader who pitches in whenever she sees a job that needs to be done. We’re in awe of her energy level and thankful for the time she dedicates to Friends School. Meet Mindy Mullins.
Volunteer activities at Friends:
Various committees, Room parent, Former Trustee, Parent council, ice cream hauler, pumpkin hauler…just whatever anyone needs!
Bluff City, TN (go VOLS)
I live in Boulder with my three amazing daughters, a great husband, two crazy dogs and a pretty cool turtle
Education/current or previous employment:
ER veterinarian. My husband and I have an emergency and critical care veterinary hospital in NY and we are currently under contract on a day practice locally.
Hobbies, passions & talents: drawing, running, hiking, skiing, anything on the gulf or in the mountains! Talents?? It’s for sure not cooking! Keeping up with three kids..that’s a talent, right?
Q: How did you find Friends School and why did you choose it for your children?
A: My good friend Amy Scheff told me about it when Moon was three. We came in Pre-K and have been here ever since. I chose Friends because I knew my kiddos would be surround by love every day.
Q: What motivates you to volunteer? In what ways do you volunteer for Friends School?
A: I volunteer any way I can. I’ve done a little bit of everything from room parent to co-chair of parent council to being on the board and various other committees. What motivates me is easy… my three hearts that beat outside my chest! My kids.
Q. What books are you reading right now? Or if you could have one super power what would it be?
A: My husband just bought me The Ride of a Lifetime. Super power….to be able to fly over the ocean and play with the marine life. So I guess I want to be a pelican. LOL.
Q. If we were to open your fridge, what would we find?
All plant based, almond milk, fruits, spinach, chai.
Q. How do you recharge?
Walking or running OR if I am by the gulf then just looking at the movement of the water. I could stare at it all day. I’m not very good at sitting still so anything with movement.Read More
An interview of Annika Nygren and Krysten Fort-Catanese by Meg Hansen
Kindergarten teacher, Annika Nygren, loves science. Her eyes light up when she describes Kindergarteners as natural scientists, filled with curiosity and endless questions and theories.
Upon learning about Kindergarten’s recent science unit on the five senses, third grade teacher and Friends own mindfulness master Krysten Fort-Catanese asked Annika if she’d considered integrating mindfulness into the unit. Krysten trains our staff, students and parents (a new class is coming in February) in mindfulness practices and also integrates it into just about every subject. Among a number of resources, Krysten recommended “The Mindful Child” by Susan Kaiser Greenland to Annika to help turn one of our Kindergarten’s historical science units into a deeper connection to the five senses and mindful awareness.
To begin the unit, Annika asked her students “When we eat, our bodies are using much more than our sense of taste. Do we always focus and try to connect to all of our senses when we eat?” They didn’t have the answer just yet, but they were excited to find out. All they knew was that the project involved Craisins and that made them excited.
The unit involved practicing the five different senses and then mindfully experiencing those senses using a single Craisin (this practice is known more formally as “mindfulness of eating”):
A field trip to Celestial Seasonings teas helped the students put all their senses to work: smelling, seeing and feeling the loose tea, listening to the sounds of the machinery, and finally tasting the delicious tea. The students agreed. They hadn’t really been connecting with their senses when they were eating (or drinking). Before the 5-senses unit, a cup of tea was just a cup of tea. By taking the time to be present and really notice what their senses were telling them, they were able to connect with all five senses that made up their experience.
Annika had one last challenge for her students. Several times a week, Kindergarteners practice “Golden Moments”, a silent pause in the day when the energy in the classroom seems a little elevated. This practice centers the group, slows down the nervous system and gives them 45-60 seconds where they practice being still. During the 5-senses unit, the students focused on each of the senses during these silent Golden Moments. While silent, they noticed the sound of a locker closing in the hallway, a bird chirping outside the classroom window, the sound of the water fountain, a teacher’s voice. They learned that sounds are happening all the time, but we are able to tune them out to focus on what’s right in front of us. Mindfulness helps that focus.
At Friends, our shared definition of mindfulness with children is: paying attention with kindness and curiosity to ourselves, to other people, and to the world around us. We view mindfulness as an integral part of our everyday life and ultimately practice it as a “way of being.” Krysten has rolled out the full “Paws b” curriculum with several upper elementary classes and will be teaching the “full.b for Teens” to 8th graders in the new year. This curriculum focuses on mindfulness and neuroscience and the interplay between the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the insula. Children use this knowledge of brain science as they build up a toolkit of mindfulness practices that can help them throughout the day – taking the time to notice and be present, calming the nervous system, and getting the mind ready for learning. This sensing mode of inquiry helps to ground us, enhancing our ability to then engage with a calmer, clearer perspective of what’s happening within, to, and around us. Mindfulness practices provide opportunities for students and staff to calm, and ground their minds and bodies shifting out of “thinking mode” into a “sensing mode” of mind—establishing balance between “doing” and “being.”
So whether it’s a Craisin, a juicy apple, or a delicious piece of chocolate cake, we hope you’ll try this mindfulness experiment just as our Kindergarteners did, the next time you consider your favorite food.Read More
by Jenefer Donovan, Friends School Community Board Chair
The new school year is now well underway and off to a great start! From day one I have been overwhelmed by the multitude of ways in which I have witnessed all the elements of Friends School’s mission in action…I have felt the energy and excitement of a dynamic community reuniting and reaching out to support one another and welcome our new families; I have been amazed by the wealth of team-building, collaborative projects and hands-on academic activities taking place in classrooms and I have been touched by the kindness of children connecting and helping others transition. I have felt the renewed energy of our wonderful teachers and met enthusiastic teacher candidates. I have admired the creative process of an elementary all-school collaborative art project and overheard middle schoolers display their passion for learning in eagerly asking when their full schedule would start! I have noticed the time taken in every grade for students to reflect on and share about themselves and listen to their peers, and for teachers and students to all get to know each other again; and I have seen the 5th graders already stepping up as leaders showing compassion and empathy for the new Kindergarteners helping them to feel safe, welcome and at home at Friends School.
These are just a few examples of the elements of the Friends School mission being put into practice, and all of this was in just the first week!
Before Honor started at Friends School, she began looking at everything here through the lens of the school’s mission and vision. One of her priorities in her first year was to “align decision-making practices with the mission and vision of the school”. She worked to bring Friends School’s mission and vision into everyday decision-making, keeping them front and center, putting children and mission first and consistently using the mission and vision to guide her and her leadership team. She encouraged all teachers and staff to do the same. Honor has also brought the 3 core principles of the vision to the forefront: ‘challenging minds, nurturing spirits and honoring individuality’. These provide the framework for all that the school does and, as you know, they have been chosen as the theme for the school this year.
In early September, the Friends School Community Board met for the first time this school year. I would like to thank all of our dedicated trustees for their hard work and commitment to the school. Over the summer the board read First Do No Harm, Progressive Education in a Time of Existential Risk by Steve Nelson and was inspired by his demonstration of “how education can nurture engaged and motivated children who actively discover their world and grow up to be good citizens”. Friends School has been the leader among Boulder schools in social and emotional education for over 32 years and we were proud to appreciate, while reading this book, that Friends School excels on every aspect of Nelson’s ‘Educational Bill of Rights’:
- Recognize the broad consensus that early childhood education should be primarily dedicated to free, imaginative play;
- Provide arts programming, recognizing that the arts are critical to all learning and to understanding the human experience;
- Provide ample physical movement, both in physical education classes and in other ways, recognizing that exercise enhances learning for all children;
- Exhibit awareness that children develop at different rates and different ways; that strict age or grade level standards and expectations are meaningless and damaging;
- Acknowledge the large body of evidence that long hours of homework are unnecessary and detract from children’s (and families’) quality of life;
- Exhibit genuine respect for all children;
- Honor a wide range of personalities and temperaments;
- Encourage curiosity, risk-taking and creativity;
- Cultivate and sustain intrinsic motivation rather than relying on elaborate extrinsic systems of rewards and punishments;
- Understand that brain research supports active learning, engaging all the senses;
- Understand that all children are intelligent in multiple ways and that all these intelligences should be honored and developed;
- Listen to each child’s voice, give them real experience in democratic processes, and allow them to express their individuality;
- Know each child well, appreciate the unique mix of qualities each child brings, and never demean, discourage or humiliate any child.
This year, Friends School Community Board has the important responsibility of creating the next strategic framework/plan for the school. Each of our board meetings throughout the year will include a strategic thinking work session. As we move through the process we will first examine our mission and vision, our “North Star”, guiding us through the journey of creation and implementation of the framework/plan. We will then gather input and data from the entire Friends School Community – teachers, staff, students, parents, families, trustees, founders, alumni parents and alumni students, before synthesizing and processing the data and formulating a strategic, flexible, forward-thinking framework/plan for Friends School.
I am looking forward to working on this process with the Friends School Community Board and our Strategic Planning Committee, led by alumni parent and trustee Anne Hunter. I am also excited to hear from all of you. Over the next few months the Strategic Planning Committee will reach out to all of you with various opportunities for you to provide your input – these could be surveys, small group vision meetings, or larger ‘dream-catcher’ meetings. We hope that you will participate in whichever ways work for you. Friends School is one of Boulder’s best independent schools because it has a strong community that cares.
Thank you all for being part of what makes Friends School such a special place for all our children.
Jenefer Donovan, Friends School Community Board Chair
If you would like more information on the role of the Friends School Community Board or are interested in being part of one of the Community Board committees, please email me at email@example.com.Read More
Challenging Minds, Nurturing Spirits, Honoring Individuality as we start a new school year at Friends School
Introduction by Jenefer Donovan, Friends School Board Chair with excerpts from our division directors (Jessie Vanden Hogen, Mandy Stepanovsky and Shelby Pawlina)
The first weeks of school are an exciting time of building the wonderful community and norms that carry us through the school year and for which Friends School is known. Across the school from Preschool, through the elementary and middle school years and into the Teacher Preparation Program, Friends School is already challenging minds, nurturing spirits and honoring individuality. We invite you to read these back-to-school updates from our program directors.
PRESCHOOL NEWS UPDATE (& Parent Reading Recommendations for all ages)
The Preschool is off to a great start in co-creating our new communities. We had a great New Parent Orientation, delightful day of Class Lemonades, and welcoming Home Visits. Included in this new batch of morning preschool families are some old friends and some new friends. We are growing connections and building trust with parents and children as we set out to create a very gentle, supportive and successful first school experience for the littlest ones. We take our jobs very seriously as we know the dynamics of the gifts and challenges in beginning the journey of separation.
With Head of School Honor Taft’s 4 trail-markers in mind – 1) Social and Emotional Literacy, 2) Creativity, Collaboration and Communication, 3) Rich Academics, and 4) Diversity, Social Justice and Service Learning – the preschool team picked up a few books for our summer reading. NOTE: Some books and authors definitely challenged our thinking and beliefs as well as gave us new perspectives! Our ongoing commitment to professional education and best practices is part of what we believe makes us the best preschool in Boulder.
- Being at Your Best When Your Kids are at Their Worst – Practical Compassion in Parenting By Kim John Payne
- From Teaching to Thinking By Ann Pelo and Margie Carter
- Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers By Dr. Gabor Mate´
- It’s Ok Not to Share and Other Renegade rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids By Heather Shumaker
- StoryMaking – The Maker Movement Approach to Literacy for Early Learners By Michelle Kay Compton and Robin Chappele Thompson
What we came away with were some themes to work with throughout the year ahead: Empathy – Boundaries – Community – Play
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL NEWS UPDATE
“It looks so open in here!” “The school feels wonderful” “Everything is so light and bright.” These are just a few of the accolades heard as parents entered the elementary school for the first time this school year. It was a busy summer with painting, purging and preparing for students to arrive. The energy in the building has been full of anticipation and excitement for the year ahead. We have only been in school for a short time, but there is already much to celebrate.
We are already challenging minds through:
- Assignments and projects focused on celebrating our summer vacations and setting goals for the year ahead.
- 4th and 5th grade Invention Convention projects
- Implementation of the new math curriculum
- Benchmark testing in literacy and math
- Teacher participation in a day-long Design Thinking workshop with Future Design School that prepared them to bring design thinking into their classrooms this year.
We nurture spirits through:
- Welcoming our new Kindergarten friends and their families to the community, and new friends in other grades too.
- Implementation of Responsive Classroom practices in our K/1 classrooms after teachers participated in a week-long training. With the new implementation of full-day Kindergarten throughout Colorado, we continue to be the most intentional, nurturing, and best Kindergarten in Boulder.
- Time taken in each classroom to set class norms, create class constitutions and engage students in creating the type of learning environment they would like to have.
- Start of the 8 week parent Mindfulness workshop
We are honoring individuality through:
- The creation of a “cool down” space in the old copy room. This is a place where students can go to quietly draw, or jump on a trampoline when they need a moment to reset during the school day.
- Projects and assignments aimed at sharing individual interests/experiences as students get to know each other at the start of the school year.
- The creation of learning plans to further differentiate learning for students who need specific accommodations across subject areas.
- The exploration and celebration of Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences in 3rd Grade
MIDDLE SCHOOL NEWS UPDATE
The middle school has grown by over 50% this year, and the energy in the building is exciting and inspiring! This incredible growth is a great demonstration of the need for a new, more progressive Boulder Middle School option.
- Summer book discussions – Each grade had a book to read over the summer that Diane chose specifically for its appeal to middle schoolers. One parent of an 8th grader reported that her child LOVED the book so much…a first for him! Each class discussed their opinions of the book, character development, plot, and other aspects of the book. It was a nice way to begin an academic conversation while getting to know one another.
- Problem- solving activities – Remember the game of Mastermind with the colorful pegs? At the middle school there is a similar game that we play…Pico-Firme-Bago in which students have to guess a set of numbers in a particular order while being given feedback of the accuracy of their guesses. The cheers that come from the homeroom when the correct number is finally guessed/ revealed are always enthusiastic. On a physical level, the popular camp game Human Knot got students problem-solving in a different way. Nuno led good reflective sessions on the process, connecting this to group work and problem-solving in general.
- Camping Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park -Temple Grandin has discussed the importance of leveraging the skills of visual learners and making sure our children learn the basics of cooking, shopping, and fixing things- engaging in hands-on learning as much as possible. Our trips program is underpinned by these expectations. In the days before the trip, students developed the menu for the trip, went grocery shopping for the ingredients (comparing products, figuring out amounts, and managing a budget), and learned how to set up/ dismantle the tents independently. On the trip, every student had an opportunity to be on a cook team and clean up team. For some students, these were first time events. There is something about doing things that expand our comfort zones that builds a greater and more nuanced sense of self, increased self-awareness and self-advocacy. In middle school, this is what we are going for.
- All About Me – One of our first central activities is the “All About Me” assignment that culminates in a Gallery Walk before the camping trip. Each student creates a poster of their design and presentation that includes information about each person’s personal heroes, favorite books, important event in their lives, etc. These are great ways to get to know one another as well as serving as jumping in points for teachers to connect curriculum with student experiences. These will decorate the homeroom and hallways.
The school year is off to an incredible start, and we can’t wait for a full year of challenging minds, nurturing spirits, and honoring individuality in this incredible school community.Read More
by Erika Norman, Friends School K-5 Math Teacher
Math education has changed drastically in the years since most of us, as parents, were in classrooms, and in that time there has been a wealth of research about best practice as well as brain development around math learning. At Friends, we are constantly researching this best practice. We offer yearly Kindergarten and 1st grade parent math nights, we share updates in classroom newsletters throughout the year, and we spend each day cultivating a growth mindset for our young mathematicians through the work of Stanford’s Dr. Jo Boaler. Jo is one of the world’s leaders in math education and I was fortunate to attend her workshop Mathematical Mindsets at Stanford University last spring. Dr. Boaler dispels the notion of having a math brain or not a math brain. At Friends we believe that all students are mathematicians, writers, readers, scientists, and most importantly thinkers. All of them are capable of success with the right mindset and experiences.
Friends School students are asked more than just how to complete a mathematical procedure, but also how to apply their math knowledge in unique situations. They see math in the world around them, not just on a worksheet page. We strive to make real-life math connections for our students through hands-on opportunities to use their math understanding. A few such examples of this are the 4th and 5th grade coffee cart project, our current Friday fraction cooking projects, creating a 3-D Polyhedraville to augment the 3rd grade curriculum, using Intooba building kits for engineering challenges, and linking a 1st grade bird study to our measurement standards. At Friends, math relates to every day experiences
In March, Friends made the exciting decision to adopt a new math curriculum to augment the good work we are already doing. This past Fall and winter all of the lead elementary teachers, with Mandy and I, spent many hours after school looking at curriculum, meeting with companies, testing out lessons from various curriculum, talking to other educators and diving deeply into what we wanted for our kids and school to meet the needs of our students. We were looking for a curriculum that had a clear scope and sequence and one that met all the standards at every grade level from Kindergarten through 5th grade. We wanted a curriculum that was usable for teachers, had resources for families and students, and contained lots of manipulatives and visual models to help students build that conceptual understanding that research shows is vital for success in higher math. Finally, we wanted to make sure that whatever curriculum we adopted was rigorous in not only problem solving, but also in computational fluency.
After much deliberation, we have decided to adopt Bridges in Mathematics, a K-5 math curriculum from The Math Learning Center. Bridges has been reviewed nationally and ranks highly in all the categories we were seeking: focus and coherence, usability, rigor and mathematical practice. Additionally, we were impressed by the resources for parents and families to help educate and support their child’s math learning, as well as a professional development site for educators to continue to explore best practice for our young learners. Finally, we were excited that the curriculum has built-in curricular components for our math learners that need extension and a well-developed intervention program for our struggling mathematicians.
All the elementary lead teachers, Mandy, and I will be trained in the Bridges curriculum in May and August, with ongoing touch-points throughout the year. Continued professional development will occur throughout next school year to ensure that we are successful with this transition. It is an exciting time and we are thrilled that we were able to adopt this curriculum, which will blend so nicely into the work we have already been doing and make it just that much better for our students.
We look forward to bringing this exciting curriculum into our classrooms and introducing it to our student mathematicians. If you are interested in learning more about Bridges, you can visit https://www.mathlearningcenter.org/ or feel free to reach out to me, Honor, Mandy, or Caroline Long who has piloted Bridges in her classroom for the past year.Read More